R&R 062 | Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)
Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse #1)
First published in: 2001
This edition: Ace, 2008
Cover by HBO; design by Judith Murello
Author website: www.charlaineharris.com
…HBO's True Blood made me do it.
In Charlaine Harris' series about a telepathic waitress named Sooke Stackhouse, the world has undergone a rather unsettling transformation: vampires exist, and since the invention of synthetic blood two years ago, vampires are out in the open, living amongst humans in relative peace.
Dead Until Dark, on which the first season of True Blood is based, introduces Sookie to a vampire named Bill Compton, killed during the Civil War, now returning home to Bon Temps. After he saves her life, they get to know each other better and develop feelings for each other. A bonus for our telepath is that Sookie can't hear Bill's thoughts at all – a welcome break from having to hear men thinking about God knows what when she's around. Sookie is elated, having found the perfect guy (despite his lack of a heartbeat, that is). But when several women are being found murdered in Bon Temps, people start to wonder whether it's such a good idea to have a vampire living in their small town…
The Stackhouse books are not your typical vampire story, given that in most other tales vampires hide their existence from humans and basically eat and kill them. This is an immediate plus; I love the subject of vampires, but since Buffy haven't been able to find something that was different enough to be appealing to me. Now I have. A few things are not so great, though, and in all fairness I'll point them out.
For instance, in the books the vampires manage to convince humans that they became the way they are because of a virus (and that they're not actually dead, just apparently dead and heavily allergic to garlic and sunlight or whatever). Even in Bon Temps people would have heard of vampire lore and myths (where they are dead, dead, dead – really dead) before actual vampires decided to come out. I wasn't too impressed with this back story, although I can see how it would be satirical. (And at least Bill doesn't sparkle. Although, what is up with him always wanting to brush Sookie's hair? That's just creepy.)
Furthermore (and this is a common complaint about any female lead by readers of any young adult fiction), Sookie appears to have that Mary Sue thing going for her. Meaning three things mostly:
1) she's gorgeous and modest enough about it
2) she gets herself into bad situations; of course men come running to the rescue, and
3) those men and many other men all fall hopelessly in love with her.
Usually, I easily grow tired of a female character like that. And it irks me a little that every man alive (and dead) are making googly eyes (and fangs) at her.
But despite all that, Sookie actually remains likable. Really likable, even. Because she does know what she wants, and she can stand up for herself. Despite getting herself into trouble way too much, she's got strength and guts. Sookie Stackhouse can hold her own. Despite appearances, she's not so Mary Sue after all.
Like the HBO show, the books are not to be taken TOO seriously; there's a campy element to both versions of Sookie's story. Harris isn't trying so damn hard to be dark and mysterious, and that makes her stand out as an author of vampire fiction. Seems to me that more than anything, Harris is just having fun with it and wanting us readers to have fun with it, too. (Which is working out rather well.)
The first installment in the Sookie Stackhouse novels (or: Southern Vampire Mysteries) is an entertaining introduction to a broody series with a unique setting (small town in Louisiana) and an original take on the subject of vampires. And if you decide to read this, remember to hold your fangs, and just read this book (or the entire series) with a wink and a smile.
NB – The Sookie books are different from True Blood; some characters e.g. Tara, Jason and Lafayette are barely featured where others e.g. Sookie (narrator) and BIll are featured prominently. The storylines may differ as well. The first season of TB is quite graphic; I'll add that the book has some erotic scenes but relatively little; it focuses more on other things. Keep all this in mind if you're a fan of the show and thinking about reading the books.